Free agency had ended but, for Ersan Ilyasova, the work had just begun.
Scroll through the forward’s Instagram account, and you’d get a taste of how an NBA veteran stays busy when he doesn’t have an NBA contract. You’d see drill after sweat-soaking drill in a high school gymnasium. You’d see him get shots up in a blizzard. “No excuses,” he says.
“I tried to work on my game every day,” Ilyasova said. “I truly believed an opportunity would come at some point. I always tried to be ready — to practice and lift, whatever it takes.
And after months of work, finally, you’d see Ilyasova in a Utah Jazz uniform.
“For this opportunity to come up, it’s a great one,” the forward said Thursday after his first practice in Salt Lake City. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The Jazz officially added Ilyasova to their roster Wednesday, bolstering the team’s already deep bench in preparation for an even deeper playoff run.
“I see it’s a great group of guys,” Ilyasova said. “The communication is there. They trust each other. I watched the games before — the way they play and the chemistry is at a high level. When you see the way they play, share the ball, move the ball, everybody back each other, this is what it takes to win a championship.”
Ilyasova’s C.V. includes more than 850 regular season and playoff appearances over 12 years in the NBA. The Turkish forward averaged 20 minutes per game in the 2018 postseason with the 76ers. He logged 18 minutes a night in the playoffs two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks.
“He’s a pro,” Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said. “Any time you have that type of experience, it’s something you bring to the entire group.”
The coach called Ilyasova’s skill set and personality a “plug-and-play” fit for this Jazz team. The team’s front office wouldn’t have come calling otherwise.
“One thing we’re really conscious of is the chemistry of the team,” Snyder said. “Ersan wants to be a part of that. I think he’s anxious to contribute in any way that he can.”
Ilyasova can provide even more size and shooting to the Jazz’s frontcourt. The forward stands 6-foot-9 and has shot 36.5 percent from 3 over his career.
“This is the way I play,” Ilyasova said. “Obviously unselfish. If you’re open shoot. Share the ball. Pick up your guy.”
But how quickly Ilyasova finds his role in Utah remains to be seen.
“He’s got to assimilate. There’s a lot for him to get exposed to. But being a smart, intelligent player, a guy that knows how to play, he’ll fit in well,” Snyder said. “We don’t expect him to show up and be ready right away. That’s not to say he won’t be. But there’s an adjustment period and we’re patient with him. I want him to be patient with himself.”
When it comes to waiting for the right moment, Ilyasova has already shown his willingness to be patient this season.
“This team of course is having a great season,” he said. “I try to not interrupt and at the same time just kind of learn. As the season goes, I will pick it up.”
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